I get a lot of questions from drivers asking why drivers aren’t better organized to protest against low fares from Uber/Lyft. Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince highlights an article of drivers who are trying to help one another with forums and groups – but do you think drivers could really get organized nationwide? That article and more in this week’s round up.
The Network Uber Drivers Built [Fast Company]
Sum and Substance: Ride-hail drivers work alone, but they’re banding together online to compare notes, uncover new policies, and help each other navigate the rough roads of the gig economy.
Cole* is a part-time Uber driver in Atlanta. On his first week on the job, he finds himself driving a passenger who has clearly had too many drinks. The passenger, a new arrival to the city, wants to know what to do and where to go, so Cole informs him of several tourist destinations.
“Out of nowhere,” Cole recounts, “he yells at the top of his lungs and slams his hands on my dashboard. ‘Dude, shut the F-up. Seriously, just shut the F-up or I’m going to have to hurt you.’
Stunned at the sudden outburst, Cole finds his bearings and quietly adjusts his hands on the wheel, careful to keep them loose in case he needs to ward off his aggressive passenger…
“I didn’t know the Uber guidelines then,” says Cole. Company rules advise that riders who behave disrespectfully can lose access to the Uber platform. But even knowing the guidelines isn’t enough to negotiate all the exigencies of a ride-hailing job.
“If I knew then what I know now, the second he got out of the car I would have driven off. But I didn’t know that. I didn’t know the kinds of repercussions at the time, having been only on it for a week.” Nearly a year after that first harried incident, Cole still drives for Uber, part-time. But he also wears another hat: He’s a forum administrator, one of many across the globe who put in countless hours managing unofficial online communities where drivers who work for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hail services share advice and warnings, answer questions, and provide a rare sense of camaraderie.
Ride-hail drivers at Uber and elsewhere have no way to speak with one another through the app. Instead, the forums—along with journalism, social media, and in-person conversations—are providing a vital source of information for workers trying to navigate a new set of labor practices. On these driver-led forums—on Facebook, on message boards, and on chat apps like WhatsApp or Zello—drivers are forging their own informal information networks, outside the algorithmically proscriptive realm of the ride-hail apps…
My Take: I’ve been saving this article for a slow news week like this one, because it’s a good article that delves into one of the under-explored aspects of the ridesharing phenomenon – the isolation of the job.
How can drivers communicate with each other when they’re all working out of their car? Uber and Lyft have a vested interest in limiting driver to driver communication, because they don’t want to have to negotiate with power blocks of drivers. That’s one of the reasons Uber fought so hard against Seattle’s initiative to permit driver to unionize. But there’s not much the companies can do about the conversations that take place online.
The main point I would make about online forums is that by and large, they are really interesting. The posts are authentic – describing real and often very intriguing incidents. What’s amazing to me is that with all the tools now available and all the disgruntled drivers out there, that no one has found a way to organize drivers into a force that Uber and Lyft would have to reckon with. Any volunteers?
Related: How to Organize a Group of Drivers
Uber plans shake-up of driver ratings [BBC News]
Sum and Substance: Uber has revealed it is planning to shake up driver ratings so customers will be able to opt for a higher service level as well as a nicer car. Currently users of the ride hailing app rate their journey from one to five stars based on their experience.
But Dara Khosrowshahi, who took the helm last August, said it wanted drivers who were “particularly good” to be rated “at a different level”. He said the firm was “very, very early” on the path to doing this. “We want to allow the user to opt-in to a higher level of service because right now the only higher level of service that we define is a nicer car… and I think the car and service are two different things,” he said…
Globally, about four billion rides a year are currently ordered on the firm’s app. In response to questions about safety, Mr Khosrowshahi said the firm was “doubling down” on background checks and vehicle licences so it could continue to grow. And he predicted that, even with the advent of self-driving cars, Uber would still need to recruit double the amount of drivers it currently has within the next 10 years.
My Take: Six months ago, DK was hardly a major player in the world of business, even though he was CEO of a public company. Now he’s a celebrity. It’s a reminder of how much clout Uber has in the media.
Last week at a conference on media and tech at Stanford, one of the panelists used the phrase: If it’s outrageous, it’s contagious. He was talking about media coverage of Donald Trump and how it propelled him into the spotlight. The same might be said for Uber. Maybe all the negative press isn’t such a bad thing. It’s kept Uber in the forefront of the news for years now. Maybe it pays to be bad.
If so, that’s not a good state of affairs. As for shaking up driver ratings, I’m not sure how that will look, even if DK’s proposed changes become a reality. What do you think? Is bad the new good?
Uber is letting people in San Francisco rent electric bikes on its app for the first time ever [Business Insider]
Sum and Substance: Uber is about to offer San Francisco residents an alternative way to get around the city: Bikes.
Starting next week, the ride-hailing service is going to let users rent electric bicycles through its app — the first time it has offered bikes as an option. The bikes themselves don’t belong to Uber. They’re from Jump, a bike-rental service that can also be accessed via its own app. Jump is rolling out 250 bikes in the Californian city for an 18-month trial — with the potential for another 250 to be added nine months in.
Unlike the Ford GoBike bike-share scheme already in place in San Francisco, Jump’s bikes are electric and dockless. Using the app (either Uber’s or Jump’s), a person can find a nearby bicycle, unlock it, ride it wherever they need to go, then lock it up to a traditional bike parking rack with the built-in lock. (Truly dockless bike schemes have at times been a nuisance in other cities, littering streets with discarded cycles.)…
There’s a wait list for Uber users to get access to Jump bikes, and the full pilot scheme is fairly small scale. In comparison, there will be 7,000 Ford GoBikes on the streets of the Bay Area by the end of 2018.
My Take: Electric bikes makes good sense for Uber. Of course there’s the safety factor… and lots of competition. Ford seems to have a leg up on this with their GoBikes, which you now see all over San Francisco. Either way, it’s a vast improvement over the traffic congestion that has become a major headache wherever you go these days.
But not so fast … in other cities where this has been tried, all kinds of problems have developed. Here’s an excerpt from an article in NBCnews.com that describes what can go wrong ...
In China… Photos have been posted on social media showing “zombie bikes” bikes piled up around cities in a less than orderly fashion.But problems with the industry have also gone global. Last month in Dallas, five bicycle sharing companies, who among them have an estimated 20,000 bicycles, were told by officials to clean up their mess. Bicycles have been abandoned everywhere from in a river to hanging in a tree. (Seriously.) There have also been reported instances in San Francisco and Oakland of Ford GoBikes, which use designated bicycle racks, being stripped, vandalized and in one case, even dumped in a lake.
What do you think of this week’s round up? Any predictions on how drivers’ “service ratings” will be calculated? Do you think it will be a bad or good thing?
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-John @ RSG